Making a website is hard. That’s why I use Squarespace for mine. I’ve tried learning how to do it myself before, and the results were…. ugly.
But what if there was another way? Not having to learn to do it yourself, but not sticking to a boring old template either? In this age of AI assistants and machine learning, shouldn’t websites be able to design themselves in interesting and unique ways? Well, that’s exactly what thegrid.io offers.
When I first heard about The Grid, way back in October 2014, I signed up right away. I paid like £50 or something to be a ‘founding member’, which meant having early access to the beta or something. I was never quite sure what I was getting exactly, which didn’t really matter – because it took FOREVER to roll out.
It wasn’t until October 2015 that I actually got my beta access. Yup, a whole twelve months of sitting around and wondering what they were doing with my money. Sure, I get how software development works, and stuff. But maybe they could have waited a bit before starting to take orders for something that didn’t exist? ANYWAY, this all meant that my expectations had substantially waned and I’d just built myself a MVP version of a personal website.
But since I actually had a beta invite to play around with, I thought I’d give it a shot. Aaaand, it didn’t quite live up to even my adjusted expectations.
I mean, there’s a lot to like about it. It does the hard work of things for you. No worrying about building mobile-friendly sites – that’s all handled. You can tell it roughly the kind of font style you want, and it’ll try some things out. Give it a colour scheme you like, and it’ll make it all look very pretty. Play around enough, and you can make something quite beautiful and professional-looking.
It did have a nasty habit of notifying me EVERY time it made a change to my website though. With both a browser AND an app notification. That was pretty annoying. But the real trouble I had with it is that I had no idea what it was for.
Take WordPress for instance, it’s pretty well set up to do a couple of things. You can just straight up build a website with it, if you know what you want. Or you can make yourself a blog, like I did. I’m using more-or-less an out-of-the-box implementation for that here. I’m using a default WordPress theme, and only a couple of plugins that help with out with some stuff. It does the job well.
With Squarespace, and other template-based sites, you’ve again got a decent framework to start off with. Are you trying to show off a portfolio of photography? Great, here’s a preset template. Same with building a website to sell stuff. Templates are unoriginal, but they’re a structure.
With thegrid, you just have to kind of feed it… stuff?
You give it links, files, or text, and it goes into it a weird limbo of draft posts, which you can then publish and they end up somewhere on your site. It’s kind of confusing, and I’m never quite sure what to give it. It seems to be able to handle most things ok, but I’m not sure what I’m trying to do.
Like, I just gave it a few photographs I’d taken recently, and it made them into a carousel. I didn’t ask for that, and it looks reasonably cool. But what if I didn’t want that? What if I preferred a grid? I don’t really get a choice. Same with the layout of the site, I don’t seem to be able to say what goes at the top versus bottom. So, right now the top thing on my site is a link to a Medium post. It doesn’t look great, in my opinion. Plus who has just like links to external blog posts as the top thing on their web page?
So, it doesn’t do the kind of things that I’d expect a website maker to do well. Like, here’s the text editor on the upload function:
It’s very very very simple, nothing more than what you’d get on a forum or something. And what kind of posts would I be writing? Is this for just little text blocks? Or is it meant to handle long-form blog entries? I have no idea.
It’s the things like this that I can’t get my head around. I just don’t know what to do with it. Whereas with my actual website, I own and know the structure. There’s a section for my poetry, a bit for my writing, a list of gaming projects I’ve got. The layout is logical and I can understand it. With my Grid site, I don’t know why things are as they are. And there’s no structure beyond the very superficial. You can make a nice homepage, but I don’t feel it’s the tool for creating your own entire website.
Here’s how my site currently looks:
There’s plenty here I like. The colours are cool, I like the font sizes, and the buttons have a modern look and feel. I didn’t pick any of this, it kind of just decided for me. Of all the images I’ve uploaded, it’s also gone with monkey-in-a-cage as the header. I mean, sure, Mr AI Assistant, if you think that’s a good call then I’m with you. But I dunno if I would have picked it. Or maybe I can change that, and I haven’t figured it out yet. I’m never quite sure when it’s updating or when it’s decided it likes the current layout.
So yeah, I have mixed feelings towards The Grid. I like the concept, and it’s fun to play around with. But I wouldn’t really recommend it to anyone who’s serious about making a website. At least, not if they want to fully control and understand their site.
As a last note, I’m totally unclear on the pricing. I’m not quite sure if I’m still paying for it or not. My ‘founding member’ payment must have gone towards something, but I’ve also received lots of emails offering me ‘lifetime membership’ if I pay them such-and-such now. I haven’t done that, and nothing seems to have happened with my site. So yeah, I can’t really speak to how much it even costs – if anything. So watch out for that!
If you give it a go, lemme know. I’m still interested to see what people make with it. I might just occasionally chuck on things I’m proud of. If only to see what it does to them.